Astronomy relies on seeing in many different wavelengths beyond the mere optical visible to our puny human eyes. See for yourself in interactive images of iconic astronomical objects that allow you to seamlessly slip between seeing through different spectral bands.
Top image: Messier Object 16, the Eagle Nebula, in optical, x-ray, and far-infrared. Credit: MPG/ESO, ESA/Herschel/PACS/SPIRE/Hill/Motte/HOBYS Key Programme Consortium, and ESA/XMM-Newton/EPIC/XMM-Newton-SOC/Boulanger, mashup by Mika McKinnon
I love how dramatically different astronomical objects look just depending on which wavelengths you're using for your imaging. I can't resist a multi-wavelength image set, where we can explore each individual image, than all the wavelengths stacked together in a colourful composite. From the beautiful chaos of a galaxy viewed through x-ray, optical, and radio wavelengths to a strange supernova sharing different secrets to each band of light and even catching the surviving star when half a binary system went supernova, each and every one is a layered work of cosmic beauty.
Composite of elliptical galaxy Centaurus A in x-ray (green, blue, purple), far-infrared (red, orange, yellow), and optical (white). Image credit: ESA/XMM-Newto, ESA/Herschel/PACS/SPIRE/C.D. Wilson, and WFI MPG/ESO
But now, a scientist at the European Space Astronomy Center has taken this concept up a step. Data processor Bruno Merin has an entire series of interactive multi-wavelength slider image sets for astronomical objects, allowing you to drag and tweak the image to make selected wavelengths more or less prominent.
Not only does this slider tool allow you to customize your view of whatever subject catches your fancy, it also makes the nature of composite images explicitly clear. While my initial reaction was a purely visceral, "Oh, wow..." of sinking into the endless variations of beautiful ways I could see these familiar objects, after spending an embarrassingly long time tinkering, I'm now hooked on it as a tool for emotionally understanding how something can be brilliantly bright in x-ray wavelengths, yet entirely invisible to the optical spectrum.
The dark cloud of Chamaeleon in optical light (white) glows brightly in far-infrared (red, orange yellow). Image credit: LCO/Yuri Beletsky and Herschel/PACS/SPIRE/Hervé Bouy/Helene Roussel
Go try it out! Did any of the composites particularly surprise you? Are you left yearning that you could see Andromeda in x-rays, or see the awe-inspiring Pillars of Creation in infrared? Do you have any special requests of astronomical objects you wish Merin would add to his interactive gallery?